In a world so full of bustle and noise, there are few places left where the mind can be truly quiet. Ellicottville’s best-kept secret, the Nannen Arboretum, is a place for locals and visitors alike to escape the cacophony of this ever-moving world. A little piece of heaven situated just off Parkside Drive, the Arboretum is the perfect place to take a walk, read, or simply sit among all of nature’s glory. While the wind rustles through the pine trees and the fish gently splash in the catch-and-release pond, just 15 minutes in the Arboretum can make any problem seem miles away.
Though the Arboretum is ideal for misty early-morning walks, it exists for much more than leisure activities. “If you go to the Arboretum, it’s a collection,” says Nan Miller, long-time volunteer and vice-president of the Nannen Arboretum Society. “There are all sorts of trees in different situations - in a swamp, in clay soil, on a hill,” she explains. “It’s a collection of trees and shrubs to teach people what will grow in their own garden.”
Miller, who became a Master Gardener in 2001, was first introduced to the Arboretum when she was searching for the perfect tree. Her Salamanca garden, having such a wet, clay-filled soil, couldn’t sustain anything she planted. “The Arboretum pointed me in the right direction,” says Miller. “Now I have a thriving sequoia in my garden.”
The land for the beloved Arboretum was donated to the Cornell Cooperative Extension in 1958 by local businessman, conservationist, and political leader William O. Nannen. In 1965, the Soil and Water Conservation Service constructed a pond (now named Lake Nipponica) to demonstrate the body of water’s agricultural and farming benefits. It wasn’t until 1974 that John Ploetz, expert horticulturalist and speaker-for-the-trees, began to develop the property. Inspired by events in his own life, Ploetz carefully chose every tree, flower, and fixture in the Arboretum to tell a story. From his exploits in Guam, Ploetz brought back the idea for beautiful log benches to adorn the grounds. A lover of Japanese culture, Ploetz constructed the gorgeous Ryoanji Temple Stone Garden and the idyllic Amano Hashidate Bridge. In memory of his close friendship with Corn Planter the Indian, Ploetz erected a glorious maple tree. Ploetz also planted four London pine trees to honor the four chaplains that went down with the H.M.S. Dorchester in WWII. Today, many choose to plant trees and flowers, or dedicate bricks or benches in memory of a lost loved one. In the Ellicottville community, the Nannen Arboretum holds the hearts of so many.
To celebrate its history, memories, and surviving the winter (40 trees were damaged due to storms), the Town of Ellicottville invites you to the Nannen Arboretum Society’s 2nd Annual Celebration of the Arts. On Sunday, September 23 from 12:30-3:30pm, over a dozen local artists will be creating right in front of your very eyes. Totally free, this event will feature hands-on workshops for all ages, live music, and one-on-ones with artists from across the area. Enjoy the masterful oil paintings of Todd Plough, learn the basics of wool applique with Mary Kay Schreckengost, get the perfect angle with photographer Darlene Allen, and so much more! With crafts suitable for children and adults in every age group, the Celebration of the Arts is fun for the whole family. If clouds roll in, the Arboretum won’t let any rain steal its thunder. The Celebration of the Arts will continue in the Rotary Club Auditorium, located inside the Cornell Cooperative Extension Building (next to the Arboretum). Come one, come all, and join the celebration. See what this living, breathing plant dictionary is all about!
Before disposable film, before cameras, before selfie-sticks and iPhones, the capturing of a moment was sacred. The painstaking hours to detail the shadows of a monarch’s nose or paint the smudgy pastels of a starry night were priceless. A painting was the only way to capture life being lived. Art linked the present to the past; it humanized what came before. Now, with the demands of a fast-paced world, few of these artists remain. Everyone seems too busy to spend hours on a single moment.
Todd Plough is one such artist that breaks the mold. With a paintbrush and canvas, he makes one moment last forever. For him, art is communication. It doesn’t require a language. It doesn’t speak to a particular class or creed. Art is universal. Todd, who grew up in the area, uses his gifts to capture the small, oft-missed natural beauty of Western New York. A master of impressionist painting, Todd can turn a single landscape into a symphony of feeling.
“I believe nature is art because to me there is nothing more visually stunning than God's disposable masterpieces,” says Plough. “Frost on a window, ripples in the water, prisms created by ice and sun cast against a stone wall … who has ever created anything so marvelous? My paintings are a pale homage but I try my best to share the visions I've been blessed to experience.”
Plough, who lived in Tennessee before returning to WNY, has a hard time choosing which of God’s masterpieces he most enjoys honoring. “My favorite place on Earth - that's not a fair question,” he laughs. “My favorite environment would be in the forest almost anywhere. There is so much life and an endless variety of subjects and sounds - it’s where I feel most alive.”
Though Todd enjoys cooking, hiking, kayaking, and the occasional hunting trip, painting holds a special place in his heart. “The act of painting for me is an exploration - a journey to a visual experience that I haven't been to before,” he explains passionately. “If I knew what a painting was going to look like in the end, I probably wouldn't do it at all. I want my work to be like a door to dreams left open for others to see into. For me, painting is an open prayer that I am allowed to make incarnate. I am just the receiver and hands, not the actual creator, but rather an echo of what I hear and see.”
A teacher at heart, Todd encourages others to echo their own sentiments on canvas. Whether it’s providing an easel for passers-by out front of Ameri-Can in downtown Ellicottville, or having a full-time art student, Todd infectiously shares his love of the craft. “My advice to aspiring painters: know yourself,” he advises. “The life is not for quitters, anyone can quit. It can be an amazing life but you MUST be a person who digests critical comments and allow them to polish your craft. Eventually it all turns to praise. Also, paint for yourself. Paint to fill your heart's toy box, not just to try and make marketable work. The motivation of painting to please yourself comes through in the work. I guarantee it makes all the difference. Above all, embrace your alienation. No one ever became famous by being like someone else.”
“If you get to a plateau in your work, take a couple lessons,” he continues. “Often a person can give you a single sentence of advice that changes everything and opens an entirely new dimension you didn't realize you had within you. That's exhilarating!”
Alongside the unavoidable criticism that comes with showing a piece of yourself to the world, being a true artist changes something inside of you. “You can tell that you really are an artist if you get cranky when you don't get to work - unlike most other professions. My wife Darlene tells me she likes me best when I'm painting. As an artist, you are your job. It's not something you go to, it is you and that, my friends, you can take anywhere.”
Todd concluded by saying, “An artist must speak every language silently and with the might of the Ocean, but to succeed you must start and never look back. Above all this, remember that kindness matters more than all the art ever created. An artist needs to leave the world a better place and that means making others’ lives better. Great art is one beautiful way to accomplish that very thing.”
MARY KAY SCHRECKENGOST
From Painter to Wool Applique
For Mary Kay Schreckengost, art is the spice of life. It is the cayenne pepper to a bland day. It is the splash of color in an otherwise grey reality. The beauty of the art world, Schrekengost says, is that there’s room for absolutely everyone.
Though today you rarely see her without her porcelain dyeing buckets and piles of wool, it took Mary Kay a good while to find her calling. It wasn’t until her last year of school that she attended her first art class. Discovering herself to be a masterful painter, Mary Kay took her paintbrush to whatever she could find. She painted scenes on watering cans, frames, old bits of wood, and detached doors. She just couldn’t get enough. She began to tole paint, selling her holiday-themed items in local stores. After lots of experimenting, Mary Kay discovered her true passion - wool applique. “I like to enjoy what I’m doing,” she says. “I don’t like to have to think and that’s what wool applique is. It’s just mindless sewing. You get to sit, relax, and create.”
With a base medium of either cotton or wool, applique focuses on a soft-hued representation of nature. Muted blues, deep reds, and vibrant oranges are used to evoke applique’s autumnal Americana feel. From pillows to bed spreads to small shirt-detailing, wool applique adds some homespun charm to any material.
Mary Kay’s favorite part of the process is the dyeing. “It’s like a cooking recipe,” she says. “You add salt, hot water, and dye to a pot. Then, you put your wool in. It’s fun because you never know exactly how the color will turn out.” The beauty of wool is its ability to be re-dyed. “If you don’t like the color, just put it back in the pot,” Mary Kay laughs. Often, though, the wool dryer reveals an unexpected masterpiece.
“Color inspires me,” says Mary Kay. “The way it makes me feel. I’ll see a tree or some flowers and immediately want to start a new project. It’s hard for me to stick with one thing until the end,” she chuckles, gesturing to a pile of half-completed pieces.
In her cinnamon-scented home, Schreckengost has a beautiful workshop dedicated to her passion. With a custom-made wood countertop to accommodate the grandkids and cabinets overflowing with neatly folded wool, Mary Kay’s sanctuary is a crafter’s heaven. “I always tell the girls, don’t buy any wool, come to me,” she laughs. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it all.”
Mary Kay slowly grew her collection by thrifting from local stores and dyeing her finds. When asked, she can remember what every detail of her pieces was in its past life, whether a wool coat or outdated cardigan. “Wool applique doesn’t have to stop with pillows and blankets,” Schreckengost explains. “You can dress up an old sweater or add some color to a denim shirt. I once embroidered cute little pumpkins across the neckline of a shirt and someone liked it so much, I just gave it to her. I can always make another one!”
Mary Kay, having lived in the area her whole life, loves to use her art to bring the community together. She often hosts small applique gatherings at her Salamanca home and, occasionally, even teaches introductory classes. “I was born and raised on Bucktooth Run,” she says. “I married the boy next door and raised my family here. I often joke with my close friend, who married her boy next door, we didn’t know we could go to town to find a husband!”
Schreckengost, who also dabbles in furniture design and landscaping, has used her gifts to transform her house into a home. Her beloved workshop and outdoor “She-Shed” are where she sews, paints, or works on local commissions. She sells her applique work at craft fairs and “The Rusty Rooster” in Cattaraugus, but rarely for any profit. “I just hope someone sees something in my work, gets an idea, and wants to try it themselves,” she smiles. “I always love to introduce people to what could be their lifelong passion.”